China is developing a next-generation strategic bomber, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s top commander officially confirmed on Thursday.
General Ma Xiaotian said the new aircraft would enhance the PLA Air Force’s long-range strike capability, with even greater strides to come.
“We are now developing a next generation, long-range strike bomber that you will see sometime in the future,” he told reporters in Changchun, Jilin province, at a PLA Air Force open day.
Despite not disclosing further details, Ma’s confirmation puts an end to years of speculation on whether China would develop a new aircraft to replace its half century-old H-6 bomber series.
Over the past several years, researchers from the PLA have shared their thoughts about what capabilities a new Chinese bomber could have, but none was able to confirm whether such a project exists.
According to a June 2015 report by Kanwa Defense Review, a Canada-based publication focusing on defense technology, officers attending a meeting held by the PLA Air Force last year urged the military to start the development of a next-generation long-range strategic bomber.
Currently, the PLA Air Force only has an unknown number of H-6 bombers, which were developed based on the Soviet-era Tu-16 Badger that was designed in the 1950s and retired by Russia in the early 1990s.
US Strategic Air Command has the Boeing B-52, Rockwell B-1 and the Northrop Grumman B-2 Stealth Bomber, while Russia’s Long Range Aviation Command has the Tupolev Tu-160, Tu-95 and T-22M.